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General Election 2017 - guidance for parishes

This section of our website features some helpful guidance and links regarding the General Election on June 8 for parishes. Churches Together in Britain and Ireland also has a special section on election protocols and advice accessible on their website which will be live soon and can be found, when it is ready, by clicking here.
 
Meanwhile, the following guidance has been issued by the Churches Legislation Advisory Service (CLAS) based at Church House in London, prior to the General Election. The Chairman of the CLAS is the Bishop of Derby, Rt Rev. Alastair Redfern.

The Prime Minister has announced that there will be a General Election on 8 June: Parliament will be dissolved on Wednesday 3 May. The House of Commons Library has published a useful guide on the implications of the election for Parliament.

Campaigning by charities during elections and referendums is governed by the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 and the Charity Commission has published guidance on Charities, Elections and Referendums.

The principal issue for churches is holding hustings that satisfy the terms of the 2000 Act.

Hustings

Local regulated selective hustings: In principle, a church that is holding a regulated hustings should invite every political party or independent candidate. In practice, a church can decide not to invite particular candidates, but if it does, it must have a clear objective reason which it is prepared to make public and, if necessary, defend. Possible reasons are as follows:

• that the individuals not invited are likely to obtain very few votes
• that those invited are the candidates most likely to win in the constituency
• that there are a very large number of candidates and it is impracticable to invite all of them
• that a particular candidate or candidates present a public order risk

Mere disagreement with the political views of one or other of the parties or candidates (however repulsive) is not a sufficient reason not to invite them to the hustings. Moreover, if you do not invite every political party or independent candidate and you cannot demonstrate what the Electoral Commission judges to be 'an objective reason for not doing so', your event may count as a donation to towards those parties or candidates who were invited. 

If the cost is above £50 it would then need to be recorded by the invited candidates as a political donation – and you would then have fallen foul of charity law because charities may not make political donations.

In short: before arranging a hustings, think very carefully about whom you are inviting and why.

Selective hustings

It is also possible lawfully to hold a selective hustings outside the regulation, even though the candidates invited are chosen for reasons which are not objective as described by the Electoral Commission. 

That is, provided that the cost of such a meeting was less than £50. However, although such a meeting would fall outside of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000 regulation, it would not be lawful where under Charity Commission guidance the party advocates policies in contravention of the charity’s objects.

Regarding the cost of a hustings for the purpose of assessing whether it is regulated and whether it gives rise to a donation, you therefore need to take into account:
• the cost of the venue (the church itself would not, presumably, be hired to outside organisations – but do you make a letting charge for the church hall?)
• costs of any advertising or flyers
• staff costs (if any)
• refreshment costs (if any)



 
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